Liz Labacz is a writer, comedian, and playwright.
Much like a great coffee shop or corner bar, a bookstore is an anchor to a vibrant neighborhood. While booklovers can certainly get our literary fixes from two-day delivery or instant downloads, there is something undeniably charming about browsing the actual stacks. I adore my kindle, but I’ll always love the smell of old books and the hunt for something exciting among the shelves. East End Book Exchange sits on Liberty Avenue in the heart of Bloomfield. Originally, the Book Exchange was solely a used bookshop, but it transitioned business models over time and changed ownership in the summer of 2016; currently they sell a mix of old and new publications. To me, that feels like the best of both worlds, combining the excitement of new releases with the prudent reuse of previously loved literature. Lesley Rains opened East End Book Exchange (EEBX) in 2011 as a pop up shop and solely a used book store. It quickly became a hub of the literary scene in Pittsburgh, moving first to the Pittsburgh Public Market, and then to its current location, a brick and mortar storefront on Liberty Avenue. In an interview with Littsburgh, a Pittsburgh-focused literary blog, Rains notes that in selling the store, she hoped to find someone who could take EEBX to a new level; she had dedicated five years to getting it started, growing a dedicated fan base, finding a permanent home, and making it a successful business. But as new opportunities arose in her life, she looked to new owners to steward EEBX’s growth. Luckily, she found such stewards in Jill and Adlai Yeomans, a couple who were already staples in the Pittsburgh literary scene. Having met while working in the publishing industry, Jill and Adlai moved to Pittsburgh through Adlai’s later work with Americorp and the Greater Pittsburgh Literacy Council. Adlai continues to work with GPLC and Jill works as a writer (including co-writing a young adult series with best-selling author James Patterson). In addition to books, East End Book Exchange also hosts frequent events in the store. In their interview with Littsburgh, the Yeomans discuss their hope to build on Rains’ legacy of connecting audiences with local authors, as well finding ways to bring authors who might not typically visit Pittsburgh to the store. With extensive publishing connections, they seem poised for success. In addition to events with authors, East End Book Exchange has hosted small concerts, storytelling events, comedic showcases, and happy hours. They also use their store as a gallery space for local visual artists to sell their work. They work with local authors to sell their work in the store on a consignment basis; writers interested in this arrangement should contact the Yeomans via firstname.lastname@example.org for more information. The East End Book Exchange buys used books for store credit only. Patrons are welcome to bring in their gently used books to be assessed. The East End Book Exchange website has a full run down of the genres in which they are and are not interested, but in brief, they never take textbooks, encyclopedias, guides (travel/computer, etc.) more than two years old, romance novels, almanacs, or magazines. Book lovers should consider refreshing their collections with East End Book Exchange. I’ve been doing a big house clean-out this summer and I’ll definitely be taking some boxes down to EEBX. It might be counterproductive to getting rid of the extra stuff in my house, but getting paid in books for books sounds pretty delightful to this nerd.
Arcade Comedy Theater opened in February of 2013. Since then, it’s become a major hub in Pittsburgh for comedy audiences, students, and performers. Arcade is Pittsburgh’s only non-profit comedy theater and specializes in presenting many different types of performance: improv, standup, sketch, music, and miscellaneous. Most shows cost $10, or $5 Student Rush (with valid ID). Shows run mainly Friday-Sunday, with occasional weekday performances. Arcade lists their full calendar of shows and other information at www.arcadecomedytheater.com. Audience Arcade’s programming varies each weekend. There are monthly, recurring shows that have built a loyal following, touring acts from other cities, and one-night-only shows. While every show may not be for every person’s taste, chances are there’s something at Arcade that suits you. The tickets are affordable, so it’s about as risky of an investment as going to the movies. Most Arcade shows are 16+ unless otherwise stated. Pittsburgh Magazine readers named Arcade Comedy Theater the Best Place to View Live Comedy two times since its opening. Improv The most frequent kind of show to catch at Arcade is improv. For those unfamiliar with improv, it’s a comedic performance style consisting of scenes or games improvised on the spot. There are two types: short form and long form. Short form consists of structured games, similar to “Whose Line Is It Anyway?” Long form isn’t broken up into games, but consists of longer “sets” of scenes, which might turn out to interconnect (think: “Love, Actually”) or be simply a montage of new ideas and scenes (think: a short film festival). You might see improv in different genres, like Shakespeare, or improvised musicals. Comedy Royale (short form) and Dinner with the Nolens (long form) are both popular recurring monthly shows, for those looking for a first taste. Stand-Up A funny person telling jokes into a microphone against a brick wall. It’s probably what pops to mind when most people think of comedy. Arcade has funny people, microphones, and even the requisite brick wall. Arcade hosts local favorites (Pittsburgh Magazine’s Best Comedian winners Aaron Kleiber and Gab Bonnesso) and has started to see national headliners like Todd Glass. Recurring shows like Blue Light Special and Comic Wars are popular showcases for local rising stars Sketch, Etc. Arcade is home to Sketchville, a yearly festival of sketch comedy, as well as many of the troupes who specialize in writing and producing live, short, scripted comedic scenes in the tradition of Saturday Night Live, Kids in the Hall, Key and Peele, or Amy Schumer. Arcade also hosts a number of other shows that don’t quite fit a category, such a live tapings of comedy podcasts or Knights of the Arcade (a live action Dungeons and Dragons comedy show). Kids Programming Penny Arcade is Arcade Comedy Theater’s kid friendly improv show. Recommended for kids 5-12, this bi-monthly show works with kids’ natural sense of play to create a fast-paced, engaging show in front of their eyes, with a pre-show crafting hour and post-show interactive session. Penny Arcade is also available for private bookings (parties and school events). Students Arcade Academy is Arcade Comedy Theater’s training center. The improv curriculum starts at Improv 101, which can be the gateway to many levels of improv education (Arcade offers 4 levels, plus 3 electives) or simply a way to try something new and meet people. Arcade offers a monthly introductory workshop called “Improv Pop Up Night” for people who want to dip a toe into learning improv without committing to an 8-week course. Arcade also offers classes in stand-up and sketch writing. A limited number of internships are available, which cover the costs of classes in exchange for assisting the house management staff during shows. Performers Performers with an established act and a solid record can contact the theater’s creative directors about booking, preferably with video or reviews. If booked by Arcade, the performers would contract with the theater to determine revenue splitting. Students of the Arcade Academy can also audition for Arcade House Teams, which guarantees bi-monthly shows and has opportunities for additional stage time. Auditions happen as needed, though typically at least once a year. Arcade does not host an open mic.